Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Frugal and Organic ~ Eat More Beans

I learned quite awhile ago that there is no reason to try to change people who have no interest in changing. Often someone tells me that they would like to eat an organic diet but can't afford it; I can tell a lot about how much they want that when I mention beans.  Most people will tell me that their families don't like beans, or that they don't have time to cook beans, or that their spouse wants a big piece of meat on the plate at every meal.

I used to try to come up with ways to overcome these obstacles, but these days I just hold my tongue, or at most say that it is pretty hard to eat organically and humanely on a budget if the diet doesn't include beans.

We all cook to the tastes of our families, but we also have the ability to shape their food preferences.  Many people who tell me that their children don't like beans will say that they do like bean burritos, so I suggest starting there.  My boys have been eating beans their whole lives and we live in an area where Mexican food is common.

But not having the time to cook beans?  If that is the only issue, I can help!  Sorting beans (removing small rocks and shriveled beans) takes 5 - 10 minutes at most, and much less time if you purchase triple washed beans.  Soaking them overnight takes zero hands-on time.  In the morning you rinse them, place them in a slow cooker, add 1 - 2 teaspoons of minced garlic, and cover with boiling water (I put the kettle on while we have breakfast).  My slow cooker cooks them perfectly in 8 hours on high; yours may differ, or if you are out of the house all day you may choose 12 hours on low.  My point is that the entire batch of beans takes at most 15 minutes of hands-on time.

Even better, and our preferred way of making beans, is not to soak them at all and to use a pressure cooker (which is actually the best way to reduce phytates).

(As an aside, my family doesn't really like canned beans, so if your family doesn't like canned beans perhaps they will like freshly-cooked beans.)

If your family likes refried beans you can use a bean/potato masher or immersion blender; I've found that mashing the beans hot, straight from the cooker, is fast and easy and gets it done for me so that taco night is even easier.  I don't even bother to add any fat; we get enough fats from other sources.  When J-Baby had an issue with "lumpy" refried beans I would puree them in the blender to make really smooth beans.

Each week we eat the beans as a soup, adding rice, avocado, salsa, etc. to taste.  After dinner I fill a medium-sized container with drained whole beans, and then I ladle the rest of the beans into a large glass storage container and mash them right in the container.  The mashed/refried beans are for tacos, the whole beans will go into a main dish casserole or burrito bowls (burritos minus the tortillas).

Doing the Math ~ Pinto Beans

I spent over an hour last night standing on my feet sorting 25 pounds of organic pinto beans.  As it got closer to midnight my back hurt and I was really thinking that it was more trouble than it was worth, but I figured that by this morning I'd be glad that I had slogged on.  One night's work was going to save me from sorting beans for the next 3 months.

I picked over the beans, pulling out bits of gravel and shrunken beans, then repackaged the beans in freezer bags.  I ended up with 5 cups of beans soaking for tonight's supper, 11 full packages (5 cups each) of beans, and one half package (2.5 cups).  For the next 11 weeks I will be able to grab a bag of beans from the freezer and set them to soak without needing to sort them.  It may only save me 5 - 10 minutes of time per week, but it moves bean soaking into a task that a child can do easily, or one that takes me almost no time when I realize at midnight that I forgot to soak beans.

I found some added benefits to having processed the entire 25 pound bag in one fell swoop.  I've never known exactly how many batches of beans I get from a bag, nor did I know the weight of the beans I use each week, making it difficult to determine how much each batch cost.  I don't have a kitchen scale and I didn't know how many cups were in the bag.  Since I ended up with 12.5 batches of beans I now know that I cook 2 pounds of beans at a time, that there are 2.5 cups of pinto beans in a pound, and that there are approximately 62.5 cups of dry beans in a 25 pound bag.

I also didn't know how many beans I use over the course of the year; now I know that the answer to that is approximately 100 pounds of beans.  I also know when to order beans again from the co-op.

I was able to figure out my cost per batch, which is $1.78 for the beans and another 7 cents for garlic and salt, bringing it to $1.85 per batch.  I make a lot of beans each week; we eat the beans as a soup the first night and then use them in two more suppers during the week (usually tacos and some sort of bean casserole).  The main (organic) protein for 3 suppers costs me only $1.85 and sometimes we even have extras for lunches!